One of the greatest needs and challenges with all worldwide missions is the ability to communicate quickly, clearly, safely, and more recently, in real-time. While social networks dominate the internet landscape and provide ways to contact people online, private online networks are smaller, secure, intimate communities of people who already know one another and want to extend their relationships. Providing a tool to allow people to communicate with one another any time they want and to share photos and calendars and participate in group chat can be an extremely powerful tool in building relationships within an organization or mission.
Web 2.0 technology is allowing for more community to be experienced where people can login and extend their physical communities that already exist to the online world through personalized profile pages, individual blogs, photo sharing, conversation forums (similar to chat rooms), and online prayer. Small groups can easily set up their own forums and have a safe place to stay connected in real time without the dangers of MySpace and other open social community sites.
Developing Connectedness with an Organization
Worldwide Missionary Evangelism (WME) began investigating emerging technology to see if there was any solution to the growing desire for connectedness within our organization. Through my role as student ministries’ pastor at Faith Church in Florence, Alabama, USA, I came across a solution and began using it to connect our youth groups at church.
After several months of using this technology, it occurred to me that the same application might be able to meet our needs within WME. I recommended it to WME chair Dale Yerton and we soon implemented our own private, online, social network (or intranet) called Oikos to enable deep connections all over the world via the internet. There were at least six factors we needed to consider when creating Oikos.
1. Ease of use. For WME, one of the biggest impediments to utilizing available technology was the fact that most of WME's members are over the age of forty. We were looking for a communication tool that would serve a dual purpose—attract the younger generation, but also be simple enough for missionaries who may not be quite as technically savvy.
Oikos made it possible for WME to communicate in new ways and has allowed missionaries to break down walls of time and space to share struggles, praises, joys, and prayer requests. Oikos now connects many of WME’s more than 460 members. To see what the WME intranet looks like, go to our site and login as a guest: http://wme.oikosconsole.com.
2. Updates on current happenings. WME was looking for a tool that could link its people together and enable them to read and participate in current happenings within the organization.
“We desired to communicate everything from completed projects on the mission field to prayer needs from other members—we were looking for a community that would allow our ministers to share what is happening in their life right now, no matter where they are in the world,” says Yerton. “Having our own private online network has offered this feature in a secure, Christian community.”
3. Sharing information. WME also struggled with how to share information. According to WME administrator Serina Tustin, “Often, we received requests from our members to obtain speaking information from Dr. Yerton. In the past, we would have emailed huge files and hoped that they made it to their destination. Now, we can put the PowerPoint file on the file sharing page and members can download it at their convenience. Additionally, instead of having missionaries send pictures and email updates for WME’s email newsletter, Oikos provides a way to stay in better communication with one another without doing mass emails with tons of picture attachments.”
4. Regional groups. Oikos is currently working to set up groups by region and location. By joining, for example, the “Mexico Group,” one can communicate and get up-to-date information about what missionaries in Mexico are accomplishing.
“We’re assigning people who live and function in those areas to be administrators of their small group so that they can stay current on seminars and conferences, stay in general contact with one another, and network with others in their area,” explains Tustin. “This gives them a sense of an established home base that is centrally located to where they are. They can also post event notifications for their particular regions.”
5. Communicating in real time. WME also wanted to be able to communicate in “real time” with members. “As administrator, I can see everyone who is online; this makes it easier to keep everyone together,” notes Tustin. “Additionally, international phone calls can be very costly—the chat feature has provided a way to communicate more efficiently.”
6. Security. Oikos has both solid communication tools and tight security. Because Oikos is like a personal intranet that only members can access, there are no pop-ups, advertisements, or threats that exist in using other social networking platforms. The online chat also has significant benefits for missionaries in government-controlled email locations, because only members of the group can see what is happening in Oikos.
Using Technology to Connect Christians around the World
More and more Christian organizations are looking for technology solutions that will allow them to have a private intranet online and have the ability to set up small groups of people in online “rooms” so that they can converse and share struggles in effective ways.
“God has given us the call to serve the Church with technology tools that truly bring people together and enhance face-to-face ministry, not replace it,” remarks Isaac Simon, developer on the Oikos R&D team.
May you more clearly understand how technology can empower ministry in new and exciting ways. And may God use the internet for his purposes.